‘Avengers: Infinity War’ is a Bold New Take on the Shakespearean Revenge Tragedy

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WARNING: SPOILERS

This past weekend represented a landmark moment in the history of cinema. The cinematic universe business model in the entertainment industry has gained considerable momentum over the course of the decade. The Avengers is easily the definitive blockbuster of the decade–a crossover franchise film featuring several characters from different movies proved to be a success. Thanks to the unparalleled success of the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) the idea of a shared cinematic universe has become the go-to template for franchises in Hollywood. However, we all learned that Marvel has been making it look easy. The DC Film Universe has been unbelievably terrible with the exception of Wonder Woman in 2017. Warner Bros. answer to the Marvel Cinematic Universe with their own comic book counterpart has been nothing short of a failure thus far. The future of the DC Film Universe launched by Warner Bros. and DC Films has been uncertain since the travesty known as Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice was released in 2016. Universal’s Dark Universe crashed and burned before it could even gets its feet off the ground. In short, Marvel Studios understands something the rest of us don’t. The critical and commercial success of Marvel Studios and the MCU is unlike anything we’ve ever seen.

After 19 films of build up the culmination of the Marvel Cinematic Universe has arrived in Avengers: Infinity War. The film is nothing short of incredible. Big, bold, and ambitious to a fault Avengers: Infinity War has redefined modern cinematic storytelling. The MCU has arguably been brining the episodic storytelling of television to the big screen since the release of Iron Man in 2008. However, it has never been more apparent that cinematic storytelling is incorporating the sensibilities of television than Avengers: Infinity War. This is a film that not only proves that serialized films can work, but they can be just as effective as standalone films. Avengers: Infinity War is not the type of sequel we’re used to seeing from Hollywood. This film differs very much from say Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man 2. Whereas you could walk into Spider-Man 2 and still have a comfortable grasp on the plot, story, and characters without having seen the first film, Avengers: Infinity War is a film that assumes its audience has invested their time in the previous entries of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. While I do think there is some validity to the criticism that this movie isn’t a complete story, I also don’t know why one would watch this movie if you haven’t watched any of the MCU movies that have come before this.

Avengers: Infinity War is a well-made, entertaining, and effective blockbuster. This movie accomplishes its biggest goal: it is a crowd please. This film is a lot of fun and rewards fans of the franchise. Anthony and Joe Russo did a fantastic job directing this film as I truly believe the duo made the best possible version of this film. Everything that the Russo brothers did with this film is because it was the best possible way to execute it. The sheer spectacle and size of this movie makes the direction more impressive. Anthony and Joe Russo took on a massive directorial challenge and exceeded expectations. They deserve a lot of credit for helping this film come together the way it did.

My biggest concern heading into Avengers: Infinity War was how well the movie would balance so many characters. Thankfully that was a nonissue. One thing Marvel has always understood that its DC counterpart doesn’t seem to grasp is that these movies have always been about the characters. The character development for most of these characters was handled in previous movies, and as a result it’s very satisfying to see all of these characters interact with each other. We already know who Iron Man is and what drives him, but how would he interact with a bunch of air heads like the Guardians of the Galaxy? That’s what we wanted to see and it is executed perfectly. The character beats in this film could not have been any better. Some of the best character interactions involved Thor and the Guardians of the Galaxy along with Iron Man meeting Doctor Strange. Each character is given some time to shine as our protagonists are split into smaller teams and each team tries to complete their own tasks. Some characters receive more screen time than others, but that’s a minor gripe. The character balance and characterizations are handled very well.

The most fully realized character in Avengers: Infinity War is none other than Thanos. Marvel has always had a villain problem with the exception of Tom Hiddleston’s Loki. That is until Michael Keaton gave us Vulture, until Michael B. Jordan gave us Killmonger, and now Josh Brolin has given us Thanos. Thanos was the one character we didn’t know going into this film. The filmmaking crew did a hell of job giving Thanos such a rich arc. He is not only Marvel’s most fully realized villain, but he’s played to perfection by Josh Brolin. While watching this movie I was not watching a purple CGI monster, I was watching an actor. Josh Brolin brought a tremendous amount of gravitas and nuance to a character that was filmed with a CGI motion-capture suit. You could see Brolin’s acting through the CGI–the emotion, the facial ticks, you could see everything. It was nothing short of breathtaking. This may be one of Brolin’s finest performances in recent memory, and that’s not a bold statement. He is that good in this role. The movie as a whole features some of the most impressive CGI I’ve ever seen, but Thanos in particular looked surprisingly realistic. Thanos is intimidating, he’s interesting, and he has an understandable motivation. Perhaps that’s what makes Thanos’s character arc so fascinating. The Mad Titan kind of has a point.

When it comes to performances Avengers: Infinity War is anchored by a few great performances. I’ve already discussed Josh Brolin’s exceptional job as Thanos. Robert Downey Jr. continues to embody Tony Stark both physically and psychologically. Very rarely do we see an actor perfectly encapsulate a character the way Robert Downey Jr. has with Tony Stark. Christopher Reeve as Superman, Christian Bale as Batman, Gal Gadot as Wonder Woman, and Ryan Reynolds as Deadpool are the only others that come to mind. Benedict Cumberbatch was simply incredible as Doctor Strange. Cumberbatch stole every scene he was in and proved that Doctor Strange’s character will be a force to be reckoned with in future MCU installments. The best all around performance came from Chris Hemsworth as Thor. Hemsworth has really hit his stride in this role after last year’s Thor: Ragnarok. Thor’s first two solo films were boring and forgettable, but thanks to Taika Waititi allowing Chris Hemsworth to do what he does best in Ragnarok–Hemsworth has brought such an incredibly strong presence to the character of Thor. I will elaborate on why Thor was the best part about this movie later.

As an overall film Avengers: Infinity War holds up pretty well. The CGI is beautiful, the action is riveting, there are some great performances, and you can really feel the weight of the movie. For the first time in a Marvel film you truly feel as if the universe is at stake–you can feel the urgency. I commend the Russo brothers and the rest of the filmmaking crew for this remarkable achievement. I previously stated that this movie is the best possible version it could have been. That being said the best possible version of a movie this size has its fair share of flaws. A lot happens in this movie, and as a result some of the editing is weird as the film is trying to juggle multiple storylines. The second act kind of drags, and there is a little bit of side-plot fluff. Despite the CGI being exceptional for most of the film there are a few shots that are off-putting. Mark Ruffalo’s Bruce Banner in the Hulkbuster armor in particular looked rather cartoonish. It looks horribly fake and it can be mildly distracting to notice that Ruffalo’s head looks like it was photoshopped onto the Hulkbuster.

The biggest flaw in Avengers: Infinity War, unfortunately, is the ending. I found the ending of the film to be quite haunting, effective, and overall executed very well. That is until I saw Black Panther and Spider-Man die. The end of this movie is undermined by the fact that we know Marvel would not kill off major characters like Black Panther and Spider-Man. Black Panther is the biggest movie in the world, and Tom Holland’s Spider-Man is a fan favorite who has a sequel to Spider-Man: Homecoming hitting theaters next year. The outcome of Avengers 4 may affect how we look at this film over time, but for now Avengers: Infinity War undermines all of its power with the ending. Anthony and Joe Russo have stated that they wanted this film to feel like its own movie. Regrettably, this movie doesn’t feel like a standalone story. It very much feels like a “part 1,” and the ending confirms this. Avengers: Infinity War is still a remarkable cinematic achievement, albeit one that loses some of its consequence. That is unless you choose to look at it in a different light…

Upon further analysis I have come to the conclusion that Avengers: Infinity War is a bold new take on the Shakespearean revenge tragedy. Yes, there is a lot more to this movie than what is witness upon a first viewing.

Avengers: Infinity War is Thanos’s story. There is little doubt about that. In fact, he is our noble hero. Great villains truly believe that they are the hero of their own story and we know that Thanos believes this. The tragic flaw of our noble hero is that he is a genocidal madman. That’s not how he sees it. Thanos sees his quest as a burden to bear. He believes that he is making the difficult decision that others are incapable of making. Thanos believes he is saving the universe rather than destroying it.

At the beginning of the film we see Thanos murder Loki. Thor is forced to watch as Thanos murders his brother right before his eyes. This is the most powerful death in the movie as we see the life leave Loki’s eyes. But it is also powerful because of how it affects Thor. Thor has lost everything. Thor has last his father, his sister, half of his people, his home, and now he has lost his brother. Thor swears vengeance on Thanos after Loki’s death. This sets Thor on a path towards revenge. Thor is separated from the rest of our heroes for a majority of the movie. It’s easy to make the assumption that Thor is off on an unnecessary and meaningless side plot, but that could not be further from the truth. Thor is the central figure of the story when it comes to the Avengers.

Thanos is the main character of this story. The Avengers are merely his foil. Meanwhile Thor is off on a mission to forge the second most powerful weapon in the universe: the battle axe Stormbreaker. This is a weapon that is second only to Thanos’s own Infinity Gauntlet.

A running theme through the film is sacrifice. What are you willing to sacrifice in order to win? What are you willing to sacrifice in order to get what you want? Thanos was willing to sacrifice everything. Every time he was faced with a difficult decision Thanos ultimately chose what would help him accomplish his ultimate goal. Thanos wanted to save the universe, and he was willing to murder his adopted daughter in order to do so. Gamora was truly the only person Thanos ever loved, but he was willing to sacrifice her in order to win. Let’s look at the other side. What were the Avengers willing to sacrifice in order to win? Nothing. Scarlet Witch was unwilling to sacrifice Vision in order to destroy the mind stone. If Scarlet Witch destroyed the mind stone when Vision asked her to, the Avengers could’ve stopped Thanos. Dr. Strange was unwilling to sacrifice the time stone in order to win. He believed it was his duty to protect the stone, and it wasn’t until he looked into the future that he was willing to sacrifice the time stone. But by that time it was too late. None of the Avengers were willing to make a sacrifice in order to win. They weren’t willing to sacrifice anything in order to save the universe from Thanos.

Thor was willing to make the sacrifice. Thor was the only Avenger throughout the entire film that was willing to sacrifice something in order to win and complete his mission. From the very beginning when Thor witnesses Loki’s death Thor ventures down a path of anger and vengeance. Thor was driven and most importantly he was willing to sacrifice his life in order to defeat Thanos. Thor absorbed the full blast of a star and put his own life in danger in order to give himself a fighting chance against Thanos. There was no guarantee that Thor would be able to kill Thanos with Stormbreaker. Thor was acting purely on the possibility that he might be able to get revenge. Thor’s willingness to sacrifice his own life, rather than the life of others, in order to avenge Loki is the reason he is the true hero of this story.

There is a reason Thor is the only Avenger that came close to killing Thanos. It’s because Thor was willing to make the sacrifice. Thor’s character arc in this movie brings the film’s underlying thematic weight full circle. Thor arrives in Wakanda with Stormbreaker and screams, “Bring me Thanos!” Our tale of revenge is nearly complete. Thor finally impales Thanos and gets what his been chasing this whole movie: revenge. Unfortunately, it’s all for naught. As Thanos snaps his fingers and wipes out half of life throughout the entire universe–Thor has lost. His revenge, his journey meant nothing.

Avengers: Infinity War is a bold new take on the Shakespearean revenge tragedy. This tale of revenge is anchored by Thor and Thanos. The performances by Chris Hemsworth and Josh Brolin give these characters more weight in addition to the rich writing each of them received. Sacrifice. Revenge. Death. This film is a Shakespearean revenge tragedy which elevates it to new heights.

Avengers: Infinity War marks another successful entry in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. This is a film that will not only entertain you but will blow you away with its rich storytelling. This is a movie that is definitely worth your time. It is a lot to take in upon your first viewing, so watch it a second time, enjoy it, and think about the revenge tragedy taking place within the narrative. Marvel has done it again.